|Volume X||No. 8||Full Sprouting Grass Moon||April 1999||Page 3|
SAVING PLANET PLUTO
by Bonnie B.Witzgall
Everyone can appreciate Clyde Tombaugh's great effort to sit at a blink microscope for hours and survey all those photos for 'something' that barely moved. Few of us were around in March of 1930 when his discovery of the planet Pluto was officially announced. Perhaps we can get a taste for this rare and wondrous event by witnessing the 1999 case to save Pluto from planetary demolition.
Since 1980 Brian Marsden, the International Astronomical Union scientist had argued for the downgrade of the Planet Pluto. Marsden, the chairman of the IAU's Minor Planet Center has the job of cataloging asteroids, comets and other objects in solar orbit discovered by astronomers. His Minor Planet Catalog now totals 9913 objects. He wanted to assign the 10,000th number to Pluto and create a new formal classification of object. The old Pluto would become the first 'Trans-Neptunian Object,’ an orbiting ice ball on the edge of the Solar System. The label of 'Planet' was the only name that seemed correct when it was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930. Marsden argued how Pluto's odd orbit and small size should classify it at least as a 'minor planet'. "It's not a demotion, Marsden said, it's an honor."
The astronomical community was completely outraged by this idea! Perhaps they were driven by centuries of astronomical traditions. Maybe today's astronomers were just defending their own, honoring the day when a twenty-year-old sky observer made history. Whatever their motivation, thousands of amateur and professional astronomers flooded the IAU with their support to keep Pluto as a Planet. Until his death in 1997 at the age of 90, Clyde Tombaugh was associated with New Mexico State University and Lowell Observatory in Arizona. Students and staff from both places lashed out against the proposal of downgrading 'their' planet and favorite son's discovery. E-Mail and letters from all over the Earth urged the IAU to stop Brian Marsden from making Pluto more 'politically correct,' although the new classification would be more scientifically correct.
At the end of January of this year, the International Astronomical Union voted on the reclassification of Pluto. The 11-member Small Bodies Names Committee was split with five in favor of the minor planet label, five opposed and one noncommittal. A pro-Pluto statement from the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences finally swayed the IAU to keep Pluto as a real planet. Responding to the uproar, the IAU's General Secretary Johannes Anderson issued a statement saying, "Pluto will not be ejected from the 'major planets' club"
Being a witness to a great astronomical event is rare and wondrous. Today we can brag how we witnessed the preservation of that small planet, and the efforts of today's researchers to uphold their cherished traditions. Our modern recovery of Pluto must have duplicated the high emotion felt during its original discovery. It's nice to know science progresses, but sometimes scientists' hearts stay in the same place
H H H H H H H H H
Move It And Lose It
by Susan Kalas
It’s been just about one year since THE MOVE. It was a small move, only about seventeen miles in the physical scope. But mentally and emotionally you’d think I was about to embark on a trip to Pluto.
After 25 years of marriage and three houses, one accumulates quite a lot of "stuff". And of course certain things in that collective mountain demand to stay separate and protected during a time that 40 gazillion items are being wrapped and packed together. My eyepieces, my telescope, my binoculars and my astronomy books were right at the top of the protection list. Not only to be excluded from general packing, I willed my brain to keep track of their whereabouts through the long, horrible, beauricratic ordeal.
So as the old house became emptier and emptier, I became more anxious and nervous and took up the temporary habit of cigarette smoking. Two things kept me on track and anchored…the view of my telescope and eyepiece case never moving from the dining room corner and the nighttime Spring sky rising in the east around 10:00 PM in May.
Everything around me was not only in flux, but had the potential to cause a catastrophe in a situation where timing is everything. As my old house of twelve, years slowly turned into a dumping ground of boxes and newspapers, the only place I could find comfort was my trusty old lawn chair at night. The sky changed, but then it never really changed, not like my home or my head. It held no anxiety or had no potential for disastrous phone calls. The sky was the sky. And all I kept thinking was that it would be the same sky, but from a different and darker observational point once this horrible thing called moving was over.
Well, it finally happened. My telescope was the last thing to be handcarried out of the house along with my eyepieces, binoculars and astronomy books…so far, so good.
My telrad got ripped off of the tube but was easily fixed. The scope found a new home on a raised deck with a W, SW vantagepoint. The skies were darker than I’d ever hoped to experience in NJ (no street lights here). So, I’m at peace again.
I’m looking at the spring sky rise around 10:00 PM over my new abode. Its not so cold out anymore and I realize though we make changes, which sometimes make us feel like things will never be the same, there are things that indeed never change. These are our anchors. These are the things that, like the sky, make us know we’ve come full circle and can now rest.
Everything is in place and our new house is now our home. My scope is in tact. My eyepieces safely sit on a bookshelf along with my astronomy books. Now, if I could only find those damn binoculars all would be right with the world!
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